SPARKS OF TORAH
VOLUME 64 NUMBER 8
MARCH 1, 2013
ADAR 19 5773
PARSHAS KI SISA
Candle-lighting Time: 5:34 PM
This edition of Sparks of Torah is dedicated in the merit of a complete and speedy recovery for
Alta Chana bas Nechama.
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Not So Fast
Washing up the dishes after dinner, you glance over at your four year-old sitting and playing onthe floor near the wall. Upon closer inspection, you realize he is playing a round of mash the metal race car into the electric socket. Disarmed and sternly scolded not to stick anything into theelectric socket, he scampers off as you head for the couch.
However, five minutes later as you’re back for a snack, you notice him a second time. Lo and behold, there he is again, same son, same electric socket. The car has been replaced with a pair of old headphones, but the name of the game is – plug it in. How do you respond?
“Didn’t I JUST tell you not to do that!?!”
Even the warning of a four year old ought to last more than five minutes.In this week’s parsha, the Jewish People make a doozy of a mistake. When Moses is nearing the end of his forty day and forty night meeting with G-d on Mount Sinai, the people build an idol, the golden calf.
This is the first event that the Torah records about the Jewish People after they received the ten commandments, in which G-d said to them, “I am the Lord your G-d… Don’t have any other gods before me…” Even before I was the parent of a four-year-old I found it difficult to understand. How could they have built an idol right after G-d told them not to? How could they have forgotten their miraculous redemption from Egypt and the splitting of the sea so fast that they could say about their idol, “This is your god, O Israel, which brought you up from the land of Egypt”?
There are two pieces of information necessary to make the event more understandable.Firstly, a few verses before this one, the people said to Ahron, “Moses, who brought us up from the land of Egypt – we do not know what became of him.” The words “who brought us up” refer to Moshe. When they made the idol, they thought they were replacing Moshe, not G-d. No one was suggesting that G-d didn’t exist, or wasn’t still watching over them. However, they desperately needed an intermediary to communicate with G-d for them, to fill the leadership role that Moshe had filled throughout the Exodus and the Giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai.Secondly, why did they say, “This is your god, O Israel”? Who’s speaking to whom?If we look back a few parshas ago, the Torah tells us that Moshe allowed a ‘mixed multitude’ of Egyptians to escape with them when they left Egypt. It was these outsiders who clamored for an idol, created it, and then encouraged the Jewish People to accept it. “This is your god, O Israel”.
They told the Jewish People that Moshe was overdue to return and lost. He said he would begone forty days and nights and on the fortieth day he didn’t return. They based themselves on a mistake, since Moshe had not meant to include the day of his ascent in the count. He came down the next day – only to find the ‘mixed multitude’ dancing wildly around their golden calf.What if one of the neighbor’s kids is playing along with your four-year-old, and tells him, “Your parents only said not to put stuff in the electric socket when they’re around. When they’re gone it’s a great game.” Makes it a little easier to understand how the original warning could have worn off so fast.
The building of the golden calf is a tragedy that irreparably affected the course of Jewish history.In every generation we suffer tragedy and misfortune, in some small measure because of that great error.
And so, in every generation, we must be vigilant about the external influences on ourselves and our people, lest they come from foreign, corrupt sources. And we must be forever resolute that the mantle of Jewish leadership remain exclusively in the hands of Moshe and his Torah.
THE SHABBOS RECIPE
We are commanded by the Torah to observe Shabbos and to ‘make it’. How does one make Shabbos? Doesn’t it just come by itself as sundown approaches? That is truly the distinction between Shabbos and Yom Tov. Yom Tov is directly based upon when the Rabbinic Court in Jerusalem determines that the new month is here. Subsequently to that ruling, then we can determine when Yom Tov is. However, Shabbos doesn’t require that because as soon as the sun begins to dip below the horizon on Friday evening, then we know that it is Shabbos. So again weare stymied by what the Torah says that we have to make Shabbos.
The Aramaic translation rendered by Yonason ben Uziel understands that the Torah is exhortingus to avoid sorrow and distress on Shabbos; rather we must pamper ourselves and truly enjoy a relaxed and restful day. This concept that we must pamper ourselves on Shabbos requires further elucidation. After all, isn’t Shabbos supposed to be a day of spiritual elevation and yet we seem to indulge in life’s physical trappings. We are commanded to eat delicacies that titillate the tongue and only consume the foods that we enjoy the best.
Perhaps that is just the point. Shabbos comes to us prepackaged and ready to use. We mustaccept Shabbos and then utilize it to augment our relationship with Hashem. When we take the physical resources of this world and transform them into a spiritual genre, then we have really ‘made’ Shabbos.
Frustration is a reaction when we are stymied. However, we are only confounded when we resortto our physical limitations. On the spiritual domain, there are no constraints, hence there is no disappointment. In the special insertion that we add on Shabbos for benching, we say that we should find favor in Hashem’s eyes and therefore He should not allow distress, sorrow and disappointment to occur on Shabbos. This is the ultimate Shabbos experience when we exult in Shabbos and we reach a plateau of such excitement that any depressive feeling is subdued and repressed.Netziv adds that this attitude is fundamental in establishing our eternal covenant with Hashem. It is only with total belief in Hashem that we can truly aspire to convert this world’s pleasures into a portal for an elevated lifestyle committed to an uplifting perspective on our goals and ambitions. It is through Shabbos that we disdain those who reject Hashem and the Torah and admire those who have sacrificed so much to observe Shabbos and chosen to select a way of life dedicated to those principles that have served to buoy us for many generations through a multitude of trials and tribulations.
In the post Purim pre-Pesach season when we struggle to maintain an equilibrium between the constant physical exertion necessary to prepare for Pesach yet preserve the outlook for redemption that Pesach portends, the primary element is the merger of the mundane with the stellar. This is the true lesson gleaned from the Purim story where the events unfolding do not relate to the physical circumstances that are actually occurring. Yet, when Hashem’s will is introduced as the elementary factor which determines the course of events, then even when Haman appears poised to destroy us, in a moment the situation reverses itself and we emerge victorious. It is only when we focus on the sublime that such miraculous turnarounds happen. Shabbos connects us through this world to the next and subsequently subjugates this world’s challenges and exchanges them for the next world’s bliss.
A Question for the Rabbis
“Write down these words…” (Exodus 34:27). Rashi cites the Talmud which explains that onlythe words in the Torah itself may be written down, but one may not write down the Oral Torah that was also transmitted at Mount Sinai (Gittin 60b). Judah the Prince wrote down the Mishnah as an emergency measure so that the Oral Law would not be forgotten. Is it permitted to write down words of Torah if one is not doing so purely “for the sake of Heaven”? Rabbi Moshe Soferindeed maintains that one may only write a book of Torah thoughts if one does so with pure intentions, otherwise the author would be transgressing the aforementioned prohibition (Responsa Chatam Sofer OC 208). Other authorities are lenient and maintain that once Judah the Prince permitted the writing of Oral Law it became completely permitted, even if not done purely for the sake of the emergency, or for the sake of Heaven. In addition they note that just as one should study Torah even for non-idealistic reasons, since it will lead to study for the right reasons, so too in recording Torah thoughts in writing we would apply the same principle (Responsa Yechaveh Daat 3:74).
BYTE FOR SHABBOS
After the sin of the Golden Calf, Moshe rallied to him everyone who would stand up for G-d. Inthe constant struggle between our enemies and our defenders, there is no room for compromise. Only when we are committed can we sustain the ideals that have kept us faithful to G-d.